4 things to know about one of the world’s oldest parades in Sri Lanka

The Kandy Esala Perahera is an ancient parade, still alive to this day, with traditional dance, music, and elephants adorned lavishly. The parade lasts for more than a week and attracts thousands of people, both local and visitors alike, where the focal point is the sacred tooth of the Buddha which is usually housed in the temple, the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth). Read on to discover a few interesting facts about this procession.

The anticipation

It begins. The sound of the simple whip cracks announces the start of the parade and brings the crowd to a hush of a standstill. What follows next is a kaleidoscope of colour, sound, and smell. All is grand. All is nostalgic. This historical procession takes place annually in Kandy, Sri Lanka where the sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha is paraded in the streets for onlookers to admire and worship. It is beautiful to see and one cannot dismiss the thought of being embedded in an ancient tale and legacy that started over 2,000 years ago.

The Anticipation

Journey

Princess Hemamala and her husband Dantha fled India amidst political turmoil and brought the left tooth of the Lord Buddha to the shores of Sri Lanka, 800 years after his death in his country of birth. The Royal couples decision to safe keep the tooth in the Island had them face a traitorous, long journey in disguise and the old scriptures speak of the princess hiding the revered Tooth Relic in her hair until their arrival in Sri Lanka.

Birth of the Perahera

From the time the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka, it became the symbolic representation of the living Budha in the country and customs, ceremonies and rituals were built around it. The modern day “Perahera”, the Sinhalese term for parade, was given birth after the decision by the ruling king to share the sacred Tooth Relic with his people. Customs of several temples were amalgamated for us to enjoy a procession where the highlight is also the majestic Elephant.

Raja, the beloved

The Tooth Relic is carried on the back of an Elephant and even though the Island in renowned for this giant, only a handful get selected for this position. Heiyantuduwa Raja first carried the casket in 1989 and it was love and first sight. His gentle demeanor, elegance, and patience won the hearts of a nation. Stories were told of him refusing to move during the procession, ignoring pleading officials who then later found the casket loose on his back. On his final journey, tears openly flowed from the eyes of Raja and he died soon after and the Temple set up a museum in honour of the favourite. Hundreds of his fans visit him to this day.

Harshi Hewage is the Marketing Manager at Manor House Concepts.

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Comments (1)

  1. Deborah says:

    I saw Indian elephants whilst on a backpacking holiday in the country and it was one of the highlights of my trip to talk to some of the trainers. I helped to bathe one elephant, a gentle female, which was very special. I love to see pictures of them decorated for festivals such as this. Sri Lanka is definitely on my bucket list!

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